HBS Kicks Off 2014-2015 Admission Season

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus


Harvard Business School today (May 15) set its earliest deadline for early bird MBA 2014-2015 admission season applicants with a round one date of Sept. 9th, a full week earlier than last year which was eight days earlier than 2012.

Though the official application will not go online until mid-June, the school also made clear that there would be no new surprises on its essay or recommendation requirements. Given all the changes Harvard Business School has made in the past two years, that was a surprise in and of itself. Only two years ago, HBS cut in half the number of required essays for MBA applicants, a move that prompted many rival schools to also reduce their essay requirements. Then, last year, the school chopped again, asking applicants for only one essay and even making that optional. It also reduced the number of recommenders to two, down from three, and had set its earliest round one deadline ever.

This year, HBS trotted out the same essay question it introduced last year and continued to make it optional: “You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career intentions, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”


Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at HBS, said that she liked how candidates had responded to that question in the past year so much that she decided not to change it. “Why are we repeating this question when we usually dream up something new?,” she wrote in a blog post today. “In fact, I went on record last year as saying that we’d ALWAYS be changing the essay question. I was wrong. We liked it. When we look at the responses of admitted candidates, there was a wider-than-usual range of how folks approached it. Some are completely about professional lives, others barely mention work experience. Some are very brief, others are not.”

The announcement by HBS officially kicks off the 2014-2015 MBA admissions season. From here on in, schools will be posting their new essay questions and releasing their online applications on a day-by-day basis. Only yesterday, Columbia Business School put its application online, largely because of its deadline for January admits, which generally account for 30% of the school’s class. The school set an early decision deadline of Oct. 8 with a final deadline of April 15. Columbia again shortened the word limits on its goal statement to just 75 characters, down from 100 last year and 200 two years ago. Otherwise, the word limits on its three essay questions remain the same. The three required essays cover a candidate’s background, long-term-goals, and what impact being in New York City will have one a student’s experience at the school.

MIT Sloan, which expects to release its essay questions by the end of June, has announced a round one deadline of Sept. 23 and a second and final round deadline of Jan. 8. And this afternoon, hours after the HBS release of its news, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business said it was reducing the number of required essays as well as recommenders to two from three last year (See Stanford Cuts Required Essays To Two).

As usual, HBS is ahead of the pack, at least in terms of deadlines,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm. “Having already released the open-ended essay question, at least students now know what they need to be thinking about all summer.  Nevertheless,  I’m still going to recommend candidates work on other applications first, even if it is well in advance of the deadline, so they can do the introspection required to make the Harvard Business School application great.”

Harvard’s Leopold said that prospective MBA candidates are in prep mode for the application season earlier than ever. “I’m quite surprised (ok, make that ‘happy’ and ‘impressed’) at the number of inquiries we’re getting from those of you who would like to get started on the application for the class entering in August, 2015,” Leopold wrote in a blog post today.


Leopold also advised would-be applicants to “use your judgment as to how much to tell us. We don’t have a ‘right answer’ or ‘correct length’ in mind. We review all the elements of your written application to decide who moves forward to the interview stage.”

She also maintained that “getting into HBS isn’t an essay-writing contest. If we were to publish 50 ‘essays that worked’ and another 50 that ‘didn’t work’, I would challenge anyone to make a perfect distinction. It’s just one element of the application.”

Leopold also released the questions that HBS intends to ask the recommenders of applicants this year. They are:

• How do the candidate’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)

• Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (250 words)

Admission interviews for round one applicants, by invitation only, will be conducted from mid-October through end of November. Notification will be on or around December 10.

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